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Rudy Giuliani's Outrageous Claim; Interview With Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; New Stormy Daniels Lawsuit; Trump Praises EPA Chief Pruitt As New Scandal Revealed. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 6, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Who might get a reprieve next?

Framing the president? Another outrageous claim by Rudy Giuliani. He's now accusing Robert Mueller's team of trying to invent an obstruction case against Mr. Trump. Is there any line that the president's lawyer won't cross?

And doubting Trump. The House speaker and the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman both side with a fellow Republican against the president. They're refusing to buy into his claim about an FBI spy in his campaign. Will the president let go of his latest conspiracy theory?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're the situation room.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on a new allegation of collusion.

The porn star Stormy Daniels alleging in a new lawsuit that her former lawyer was secretly in cahoots with the president's attorney Michael Cohen. She claims Mr. Trump knew the two men were working together to help him. Tonight, Daniels' current lawyer, Michael Avenatti, says there are text messages that prove there was a cover-up and that the president has been lying.

I'll get reaction from Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns.

Joe, what more are we learning about this lawsuit?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the new lawsuit accuses the former lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels of violating professional obligations he owed to her as a client, including the duties of loyalty and confidentiality.

And it even accuses attorney Keith Davidson along with the president's old lawyer Michael Cohen of acting in concert against her. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): The lawsuit describes a cozy relationship between Stormy Daniels' former attorney Keith Davidson and President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, saying Cohen colluded with Mr. Davidson in an attempt to use and manipulate Ms. Clifford in a manner designed to benefit Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump.

It includes text messages. Cohen reaching out to Davidson in an attempt to get Daniels to appear on Fox News to deny the affair. The texts start January 17, the same day "In Touch" magazine published excerpts of an interview in which Stormy Daniels described a sexual encounter with Trump.

Cohen says: "I have her tentatively scheduled for Hannity tonight," to which Davidson replies, "She cannot do it. She's flying to L.A. tomorrow."

Cohen says: "This is no good. We need her, as by doing tomorrow, you just create another news cycle, instead of putting an end to this one."

The lawsuit calls those messages a desperate attempt to convince Ms. Clifford to lie to the American public about her relationship with Mr. Trump.

QUESTION: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


QUESTION: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you will have to ask Michael.

QUESTION: And do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know.

JOHNS: And it claims President Trump knew about the conversation between Davidson and Cohen because of this text. Cohen wrote: "The wise men all believe the story is dying and don't think it's smart for her to do any interviews. No interviews at all with anyone."

Davidson writes: "One hundred percent."

To which Cohen replies, "Thanks, pal."

But Cohen and Davidson kept in communication, according to the lawsuit, with Cohen getting a heads-up that Daniels was going to get a new attorney, Michael Avenatti, and that they were going public with a lawsuit.

Cohen went to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Mrs. Melania Trump in order to get out in front of the approaching lawsuit and publicity. Just days before that first Daniels lawsuit was filed, Michael Cohen was at Mar- a-Lago when he texted Davidson, "We should speak." When Davidson asked, "You calling?" Cohen said, "With FLOTUS. Give me a minute."


JOHNS: Keith Davidson's spokesman issued a strongly worded statement tonight saying: "This outrageously frivolous lout is another desperate attempt by Michael Avenatti to continue his publicity tour. The truth can now finally come out to rebut the false narrative about attorney Davidson that Mr. Avenatti has been pushing in his more than 175 television appearances and countless other media interviews."

So, Wolf, we haven't heard the other side yet.


BLITZER: I anticipate we will at some point fairly soon.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our legal analyst, Joey Jackson, right now.

Joey, you saw those text messages between Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson. How strong is this Stormy case?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's predicated upon more than text messages.

If you read the complaint, it speaks to a relationship that is cozy. And let me address the texts first. In the texts, you have Michael Cohen, who's advocating for his client. He wants for sure her to do this interview with Sean Hannity to disprove this "In Touch" story that is coming out as to the affair.


And so Michael Cohen, being an advocated, is texting, what's going on? We need to get the interview done, et cetera, et cetera.

And, quite frankly, Keith Davidson's responses back, he's responding, but there's no smoking gun in terms of I'm assisting, don't worry, I will get it done for you. It's not uncommon as a practical matter for attorneys to correspond both on the phone and by text. I don't see any smoking gun per se in the text messages with respect to colluding itself.

The other issues of the complaint concerning whether or not he's handle over the file, that is, Keith Davidson, whether there's some basis for him to maintain the file, because the file, that is her file, right, not his, it's the client's file, technically, why wasn't it turned over? What else was he doing with Michael Cohen?

Was the relationship too cozy? As a result of having the relationship with Michael Cohen, was he tipping off information about what was going on and what was up next and what you need to watch out for? That would be more troubling to me, because at the end of the day, you have an absolute responsibility, a duty of loyalty to your client, your client comes first, you come second.

And if you violate that, you're in trouble. But I don't, as a practical matter, see a smoking gun in these text messages. And in terms of the other allegations, they have to be proven.

BLITZER: What does this mean for President Trump?

JACKSON: It means, quite frankly, that it becomes less likely that he had no idea what was occurring.

And in addition to that, it means he cannot, cannot sit down for a deposition as it relates the Stormy Daniels case. Why? Because it would make it more likely that he would say things that are not true. And to the extent that you say things that are not true, it becomes problematic for another reason. It's called perjury. And perjury could lead to other thing that has a P in it called impeachment.

And so he needs to avoid that. But it makes it certainly far less likely that he had no idea what was happening here and Michael Cohen was acting unilaterally on his own behalf.

BLITZER: Joey Jackson, thank you very, very much.

We have more breaking news right now on the president's reported obsession with his power to forgive crimes and release prisoners. He just commuted the sentence of a whom whose case was argued in the Oval Office by Kim Kardashian.

And now we're told he's considering dozens, dozens of new pardons.

We're joined by our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, the president is on a clemency spree.


It appears pardoning is top of the president's mind these days. Typically, presidents wait until the end of their term to grant pardons, but not President Trump.

He has already reached out to White House officials asking them to come up with a list of other people he could potentially pardon on top of the five pardons and one commutation he's also granted, including the one today of Alice Johnson.


BROWN (voice-over): President Trump considering dozens of new pardons, that as he commutes the life sentence of Alice Johnson, a first-time drug offender who served 21 years of a life sentence on charges of cocaine possession.

That decision following a personal Oval Office request from reality TV star Kim Kardashian West. Sources say Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn advocated against it. Also on the list, lifestyle guru and businesswoman Martha Stewart, though a source familiar says the president has cooled on that idea.

MARTHA STEWART, CEO, MARTHA STEWART LIVING: We're going to make a scrumptious meatloaf sandwich, which is Donald's favorite sandwich.

TRUMP: I have never had meatloaf this good.

BROWN: Stewart was found guilty of lying to investigators about suspicious stock trades.

And former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is also on the list. He was on "The Apprentice with Trump."

TRUMP: Governor, I have great respect for you.

BROWN: He was convicted on 17 corruption charges and impeached for trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat.

And last week, Trump pardoned conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law. The president tweeted saying he has the absolute right to pardon himself. And his willingness to ignore Justice Department guidelines on issuing pardons has some Democrats worried he will use it to help allies caught up in the investigation into Russian campaign meddling in the election in 2016.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: The pardon process is supposed to be based on justice and to vindicate the societal values of forgiveness and mercy. Unfortunately, the president has perverted the pardon process. And now it seems like he's pardoning people based on their celebrity status or because a celebrity talked to him.

BROWN: As he did when he pardoned campaign supporter and controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio last year for his criminal contempt conviction.

And with the president headed to Canada for the G7 on Friday, the White House is playing down reports that relations are souring over new U.S. tariffs on Canadian steal and aluminum imports.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I have no doubt that the United States and Canada will remain firm friends and allies, whatever short-term disagreements may occur.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Seriously? Do you really believe that Canada, that your NATO allies represent a national security threat to you?


BROWN: However, CNN has learned that Mr. Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clashed on a phone call late last month, Trudeau calling out the president for using national security to justify the tariffs.

Mr. Trump replied, "Didn't you guys burn down the White House?" -- a reference to the War of 1812.

However, CNN is told the Trudeau did not find the comment funny. And worth noting, it was the British who burned down the White House, not Canada.

Trump today also visiting FEMA headquarters to discuss hurricane preparedness, but first giving an update on first lady Melania Trump's health in her first public appearance since undergoing a medical procedure several weeks ago.

TRUMP: She went through a little rough patch, but she is doing great. And we're very proud of her. She's done a fantastic job as first lady. The people love you. The people of our country love you.

BROWN: Trump heaped praise on several Cabinet members for their performance in last year's hurricane season, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is still under fire for lavish government spending and alleged ethics violations, including asking a government staffer to buy him a used mattress from Trump's D.C. hotel.

TRUMP: Administrators Scott Pruitt, thank you, Scott, very much. EPA is doing really, really well. And somebody has to say that about you a little bit. You know that, Scott.

BROWN: One person not getting praise tonight, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump all but ignored.

TRUMP: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, thank you, Jeff. Thank you very much.


BROWN: And, as you know, Wolf, President Trump, as recently as yesterday, continues to badger the attorney general for recusing himself in the Russia probe.

No surprise in many -- in a sense that he didn't pay him as much attention today.

Now, as for the pardons, two sources familiar with the matter say that the White House Counsel's Office is also considering a handful of clemency petitions for people like Alice Johnson, people who aren't celebrities and are not political allies of this White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect all those are just beginning.

Thank you very much, Pamela Brown, the White House.

Joining us now, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He is a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thank so much for joining us.

Let me quickly get your reaction to these allegations that the president's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen colluded with Stormy Daniels' lawyer to help President Trump. Does Congress have a role to play here at all in trying to figure out whether any laws were actually broken?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Off the top of my head, I don't see that.

I think that there's at least a veneer of credibility to the charges, because these two lawyers were engaged on multiple similar cases. And so the idea that they have set up a little system is I think, at least on its surface, credible.

And what that means relative to us is that it puts considerable more pressure on Michael Cohen. And if he uses the added pressure here as a reason to cooperate and the Southern District of New York investigation accelerates for that reason, then that will have some significant impact on the matters that are of interest to us in the Senate, which are the collusion, the obstruction of justice, and potential tampering of witnesses.

BLITZER: All right, let's get to that, because Rudy Giuliani, the president's new personal attorney, now says that the Mueller team -- and he blames what he calls 13 highly partisan Democrats who make up the Mueller team -- he says they are -- quote -- "trying very, very hard to frame the president" and to get him into trouble when he hasn't done anything wrong.

What do you make of that allegation, that these individuals working for Mueller are trying to frame the president?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I would say two things.

First, with respect to a public audience, this is kind of a gaslight job, in which you just continue to say things that are demonstrably false and test everybody's ability to stand by the reality of the situation.

It's become a recurring Trump administration public relations strategy. And I think we need to be attentive to it when it comes up, because it's a particular strategy, just gaslighting the public by saying things that are false and persisting in saying them.

The other element of this is that, if you deal with defense lawyers in criminal matters and they have got not much left, very often, what they will do is to start saying outrageous things about the prosecution, in the hopes that the prosecution will be baited into responding.

And the zone of misbehavior that a defense counsel can do in the zealous defense of their client is far broader than what a prosecutor is allowed to do. So the baiting a prosecutor into responding strategy is not new.

I do think that Mueller and his team are so professional and so experience that the likelihood of their being taken in by this and seizing the bait is very, very unlikely. But I do think that there is a whiff of desperation coming out of the White House right now, and that the combination of the gaslight job and the attempt to provoke Mueller is what's behind this latest series of just flat falsehoods.


BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting.

The former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, as you know, he was fired only a few days before he was scheduled to start receiving his federal pension. He is scheduled to testify before your committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, next week.

And he's asking for immunity in exchange for his testimony. What do you of that?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I believe there is a matter pending over at the Department of Justice with respect to him. So that's, I think, fairly standard operating procedure for somebody who has an investigation pending, until that is brought to its conclusion.

Obviously, I think it's an opportunity for the president to make hay about McCabe and about the FBI. And I wouldn't be surprised if there was -- if that weren't the rationale for bringing him in, that people could foresee that he would be likely to ask for immunity, that, when he did, that would kick off this second round of presidential gaslighting.

So he may have been propped up to this, knowing that somebody in his situation is highly, highly likely to take that step.

BLITZER: After the president accused the FBI of spying on him, on his campaign, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, they're both now rejecting that accusation by the president.

They're insisting that the FBI acted appropriately.

How much influence do you believe those comments from these Republican leaders have on the president? And how much influence do they have on your Republican colleagues in Congress?

WHITEHOUSE: I don't think they have much effect on the president.

I think they're into desperate times require desperate measures mode. And having some Republicans agree that these claims that they have made are ridiculous doesn't really change their desperate measures.

I do think, though, that when Representative Gowdy and Senator Burr and Speaker Ryan all line up and say that is a ridiculous assertion, we expect the FBI to come in, in a counterintelligence matter and find out if the Russians are in fact infiltrating a political campaign, that is not spying. That is traditional counterintelligence designed to protect our country.

And if they didn't do that, it would be a scandal. That to me all makes a lot of sense. But you have got to separate the strategy of the Trump White House from what makes sense and what's truthful. I do think that this creates a bit of a buttress for the president trying to push too far with all of this. Desperate people do, nevertheless, have boundaries. And I think as he pushes these desperate boundaries, when he gets pushback from the Republicans, it makes something of a difference in the circles around him.

It has to have an effect on people like Don McGahn, for instance.

BLITZER: The White House counsel.

All right, Senator Whitehouse, thanks so much for joining us.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the new Stormy Daniels lawsuit.

Do text messages between her former lawyer and Michael Cohen prove the president has been lying?

And is Rudy Giuliani doing more harm than good for the president? We're digging deeper on his new over-the-top attack on the special counsel.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: They are a group of 13 highly partisan Democrats that make up the Mueller team, excluding him, are trying very, very hard to frame him, to get him in trouble, when he hasn't done anything wrong.




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, we got some breaking news.

Just a few moments ago, Alice Marie Johnson was freed. We have got the video want to show our viewers. She was met by members of her own family and Alabama. She was released from a federal president in Aliceville, Alabama, a federal correctional institution, Aliceville, as it's called.

And she was greeted by family and friends, a very dramatic moment indeed. We have got the video. Want to show it to our viewers. She had been serving more than 20 -- there you see the picture. She was released in that vehicle. She's in the white.

She was serving up a 20 -- she already served 21 years of a life sentence after she was convicted on charges of conspiracy to possess procaine and attempted possession of cocaine. But there she is. You can hear, a very emotional moment. Let's listen for a moment.


ALICE MARIE JOHNSON, PARDONED: I have so many people to thank.

I'm just want to -- I'm just so thankful. I feel like my life is starting over again.

BLITZER: There you see it. The president commutes the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson. She's a free woman right now after 21 years.

We're going to have much more on this story coming up, but a very dramatic moment indeed. She's out of jail.

We're also following other breaking news. Stormy Daniels is accusing her former lawyer of colluding with President Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen. We're going to have more on that lawsuit coming up.

Right now, the Trump team is also going to a new extreme in its campaign to try to discredit Robert Mueller's investigation.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, Rudy Giuliani is accusing the special counsel's office of, what, trying to frame the president of the United States.


This is part of the campaign by Rudy Giuliani to portray the Robert Mueller investigation as one that is tainted by politics, by the fact that there are people who they say are Democrats on the Mueller team who are investigating the president.


The president's lawyer was in Israel, in Tel Aviv, yesterday. And here are some comments he had to say about the Mueller team. Listen.


GIULIANI: They are a group of 13 highly partisan Democrats that make up the Mueller team, excluding him, are trying very, very hard to frame him, to get him in trouble, when he hasn't done anything wrong.

They can't emotionally come to grips with the fact that this whole thing of Russian collusion didn't happen, but that they're trying to invent theories of obstruction of justice.

The president fired the FBI director. The president has a right to fire the FBI director. The president should have fired the FBI director. He was a terrible FBI director.


PEREZ: And, Wolf, that's in line with the comments that we have heard before.

And, look, this is a preview of what we're about to see in the coming weeks. There's an inspector general report coming from the Justice Department that we expect is going to criticize James Comey for his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

That's going to be part of the president's message there. And also, obviously, there's going to be a fight perhaps over whether or not the president sits down with Robert Mueller in the investigation for an -- for a voluntary interview.

If he doesn't sit for a voluntary interview, we expect to see the reasons that he has just cited as part of that. The obstruction picture is not something that should -- anyone should be investigating.

BLITZER: Evan Perez reporting for us, Evan, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we're breaking down the allegations in the new Stormy Daniels lawsuit, the claims of collusion and a cover-up and those potentially incriminating texts.

And Rudy Giuliani, as you just heard, he keeps on talking and shocking, as he makes his feelings about Stormy Daniels crystal-clear at the same time.


GIULIANI: Explain to me how she could be damaged. She has no reputation here. If you're going to sell your body for money, you just don't have a reputation.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news tonight, the porn star Stormy Daniels filing a new lawsuit against President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and her former lawyer, accusing them of colluding to help Mr. Trump.

[18:31:47] Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts.

And Dana Bash, in this lawsuit they present some text messages between Michael Cohen and the first lawyer for Stormy Daniels, Keith Davidson. And they -- the texts appear to show the two men trying to arrange her media appearances, a media strategy on January 17 of this year.

Cohen texted Davidson, quote, "The wise men all believe the story is dying and don't think it's smart for her to do any interviews," close quote.

The suit alleges that the wisemen actually included President Trump himself. Would that contradict what the president's previous statements suggested? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That he didn't know

anything about this? Absolutely, it would. But the lawsuit that has -- the new lawsuit that has been filed suggests, more broadly, that Stormy Daniels's old lawyer, her ex-lawyer, was in cahoots -- that's obviously not a legal term, just a layman's term -- with Michael Cohen and with, effectively, Donald Trump to try to, you know, make sure that her story doesn't get out.

So that is all part of this, and it is also related to the kind of approach that Michael Cohen and the people in and around Donald Trump took with the -- with Karen McDougal, who had the same -- same kind of -- kind of situation.

So, yes, it is contradictory. Though, Wolf, the question is how does this -- how does this play out? Does it matter? Because so many things that we have seen and heard from this president, from this White House, from his legal team, have been contradictory to other statements that they have made. So does it matter in the court of public opinion? It certainly doesn't seem that way for now. Will it matter in a legal court, in a legal setting? That is a bigger question.

BLITZER: I've read, Joey, this 15-page statement that was filed, this lawsuit that was filed out in the County of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Courthouse. I'm sure you've read it, as well. So what is the biggest legal and ethical issue at stake now?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, quite frankly, as it relates to Michael Cohen, I don't see anything here. Why he's advocating for the president: "Have her do the interview. We need to do the interview. Are you available? Call me back. What are you doing?"

That's what lawyers do when they want to get something done. And so this aiding and abetting liability that is in this lawsuit, I don't get at all.

Now, as it relates Mr. Davidson, I don't see these e-mails as any smoking gun or text messages, rather. Attorneys commonly speak to each other, we text each other, even when we're on opposite sides. Clearly, the one who was presenting the strategy was Cohen.

And this whole issue concerning the Sean Hannity interview did not happen.

And so the larger issues in the case, concerning at least this lawsuit, were there behind-the-scenes issues going on, where Davidson was colluding and giving him information and saying, "Look, this is what my client's doing. And I'm not going to give my client back the file"?

But I don't see a lot going on here in this lawsuit to make -- to make me concerned anyway. The biggest concern, quite frankly, to go back to Dana's point, is the president. What did he know and when did he know it? And it makes it far less likely that he had no idea this was occurring. And that's why I will repeat, the president of the United States

cannot sit for a deposition related to this case. It will result in perjury, which could result in impeachment.

[18:35:08] BLITZER: And the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Rebecca Berg, he's over in Israel right now. He decides to weigh in on the Stormy Daniels case. Listen to this.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: When you look at Stormy Daniels, I know Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's respect her.

GIULIANI: Look at his three wives, right? Beautiful women, classy women, women of great substance. Stormy Daniels? Explain to me how she could be damaged. She has no reputation. If you're going to sell your body for money, you just don't have a reputation.


BLITZER: Is he doing the president any favors?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I have no idea, Wolf, what Rudy Giuliani is suggesting there. Is he suggesting that Donald Trump wouldn't be interested in Stormy Daniels, that she would say anything to get attention? I mean, no one will believe either of those things, first of all.

And Donald Trump, the suggestion that someone else would say anything to get attention but he would not is disproved easily by his history in New York with the tabloids, with stories about his romantic escapades.

And so I just have no idea what Rudy Giuliani is trying to accomplish here or why he is speaking about this in Israel when this is not something that he is handling as the president's lawyer. He's on the president's legal team to deal with the Mueller investigation, not to deal with any of the Stormy Daniels stuff. Why is he talking?

BLITZER: Speaking of the Mueller -- speaking of the Mueller investigation, Phil, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also said -- and I'm quoting him now -- "These 13 highly partisan Democrats who make up the Mueller team are trying very, very hard to frame him to get him in trouble when he hasn't done anything wrong."

The president's personal lawyer accusing these federal prosecutors of trying to frame the president.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, he's not the president's personal lawyer. He's the president's personal hatchet man. Until yesterday or the day before, you could say, look, the Republicans involved, despite the fact that Giuliani and the president continue to portray this as some Democratic scheme, the Republicans involved include now the deputy attorney general, as we've discussed; Robert Mueller, who is the Republican appointee to be the FBI director, the most legendary, in my view, FBI director since the FBI was formed in 1908. The Senate committee that looked at this, Richard Burr, has said this is a legitimate investigation.

And now we have the spokesman for the White House, Paul Ryan, last I checked, the House leader, saying this is a legitimate investigation. How many Republicans do you need to say this is not 13 Democrats who happen to be Mueller lawyers making up a scheme? This is -- this is a Republican-led investigation.

BASH: And the fact that you had, as Phil just said, the House speaker, who has been quite supportive, much to the chagrin of many of his colleagues, quite supportive of Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence chair, and of others who have been asking for information from the Justice Department, who have been very hard on the Justice Department about this Russia probe, the fact that he made a point today of coming to the defense of Trey Gowdy, meaning coming to the side of the FBI hasn't done anything wrong as far as we can tell, was no accident.

That that is coming as the rhetoric from Rudy Giuliani about these -- about Democrats and about this being a partisan witch hunt is escalating and frankly, taking hold with public opinion. It is very interesting that that is something that the House speaker decided to weigh in on after all of this time not doing that.

BLITZER: And Dana, as you know, not just the House speaker; Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: He was one of those Gang of Eight members who were briefed in a highly classified briefing on all of this. He and Trey Gowdy and the speaker, Mitch McConnell, all these Republicans, they've come out, with the exception of Devin Nunes, and say the FBI did exactly what is appropriate to do in a situation like this. When you suspect something wrong, counterintelligence, you go and you investigate.

BASH: This is pushback. This is the pushback that we have been wondering -- you know, we've been hearing crickets. Now we hear something different. We hear some pushback from the Republican leaders on these issues, minus Devin Nunes, on Capitol Hill.

And again, the fact that we are hearing this now as the criticism of the investigation has gotten really loud from Rudy Giuliani and people -- and the president himself is -- is a very big signal to the president and to his lawyer: "You know what? We got their back over at the Justice Department. Let's back off now."

BLITZER: Joey, let me let you weigh in. Go ahead.

JACKSON: Yes. Just one thing. You know, it's interesting. There's an expression in law. When the facts are on your side, you argue the facts. When the law is on your side, you argue the law. When neither is on your side, you pound the table. And certainly, we're seeing a lot of table pounding going on here, without question. [18:40:12] And then the other thing, which strikes me as curious, is

that constantly it's the defense's famous tactic, which is what you do when I'm guilty, as well, is that you attack the investigation. The investigation is wrong. The investigators are wrong-sided. They're Democrats; they're biased. They're not doing their job. You have to do that to undermine public confidence, because at the end of the day, this is more about impeachment than it is about a jury and indictment. You're dealing with the president.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, he's weighing in on a whole bunch of issues today. He also weighed in all of a sudden on North Korea, even though he's the president's attorney, saying the president got Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to beg on his hands and knees for the summit.

Is it wise for Rudy Giuliani to be saying something like that on the eve of what potentially could be a very historic summit in Singapore next Tuesday?

BERG: no, Wolf, other than potentially making the president feel important and in control, it doesn't accomplish anything. And perhaps threatens to derail these very fragile negotiations on the eve of the negotiations.

We saw just a few weeks ago how the wrong words at the wrong moment totally derailed these meetings, and they needed to be rescheduled afterward. This could be such a statement. We don't know, of course, what will happen and how the North Koreans will take that. But insulting Kim Jong-un and making him look desperate right as the president is set to sit down with him, I'm not sure it's a wise strategy.

BLITZER: I'm sure Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who's gone to Pyongyang twice, not very happy with those words himself.

All right, guys. Stick around. An important programming note for our viewers: Van Jones will have an exclusive interview with Kim Kardashian about the president's pardon of Alice Johnson. You can see that interview tomorrow on "CNN TONIGHT," tomorrow night, 10 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Up next, President Trump praises his embattled EPA -- EPA chief, even as new details emerge of the latest scandal swirling around Scott Pruitt.


[18:46:53] BLITZER: President Trump praised his embattled EPA administrator today even as new details emerged about yet another scandal involving Scott Pruitt.

Let's go to our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin. He's working the story for us.

Drew, Pruitt is facing more ethics questions tonight. DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.

Pruitt's latest scandal involves the head of the EPA trying to cook up a business deal for his wife, fast food restaurant franchise that he tried to arrange with the restaurant chain's CEO.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Scott Pruitt apparently tried to use his position as head of the Environmental Protection Agency to get his wife a franchise with Chick-fil-A. As astonishing as that sounds, even more astonishing, it's all in writing in government e-mails.

On May 16th, 2017, Pruitt's former aide, Cindy Hupp, from her official EPA email account, writes to Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy. Administrator Pruitt asked me to reach out to you about a potential meeting.

Days later, Hupp sends a second message to Chick-fil-A. The administrator would like to talk about a potential business opportunity with Mr. Cathy.

Pruitt's wife started the process, but never became a Chick-fil-A franchisee. It is just the latest in a long stream of ethically questionable moves and spending gaffes that has ethic experts amazed just how Pruitt is able to hold onto his job.

WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: It's mind boggling how long the list of potential ethics violations are.

GRIFFIN: Earlier this week it was revealed Pruitt sent an EPA staffer on government time to run personal errands including asking the Trump Hotel about buying a used mattress for him. A list of probes or investigations into Pruitt is a long one, from leasing a D.C. condo from a lobbyist's wife below cost, to spending tax dollars on first class travel and weekend trips home, handing out jobs and pay raises to political aides, holding questionable meetings with companies seeking EPA favors.

Thirteen separate probes now underway involving Pruitt and yet he keeps his job.

Walter Shaub, who headed the government's ethics office until last year says he has never seen anything like this.

(on camera): You don't doubt that that is the message Scott Pruitt is basically saying through his actions, ethics do not apply to me?

SHAUB: I think that's certainly it. I mean, you even have inconsistent explanations for different things that he's done. I don't think it's just simply ethics rules. It's compliance with all of the safeguards and restraints on government officials.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): All of Pruitt's scandals did not seem to be bothering the one person who matters, the president, who today said this of his EPA administrator.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Administrator Scott Pruitt, thank you, Scott, very much. EPA is doing really, really well.

GRIFFIN: Why? Because big energy, big business, big coal, big mining, big oil -- in other words big financial supporters of the president say they like what Pruitt is doing to the EPA.

DOUG DEASON, REPUBLICAN DONOR, PRUITT FRIEND: Two things that have done more to lift the poor out of poverty than anything else, number one, fossil fuels. Second is capitalism.

GRIFFIN: Doug Deason is part of the Koch brother's network. His father is a billionaire. They donate to super PACs that support Donald Trump.

[18:50:00] And they say they could not be happier with Scott Pruitt running the EPA into the ground.

DEASON: The EPA obviously needs to go away.

GRIFFIN: Until it does, he and others hope the president will keep Scott Pruitt right where he is.


GRIFFIN: And, Wolf, Scott Pruitt today shrugged off that Chick-fil-A news, telling a reporter he was excited about the possibility of bringing a franchise to his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Meanwhile today at the EPA, two of Pruitt's closest aides, they are leaving. One of them, the very staffer who was directed to try and find Pruitt that used mattress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the story is not going away at all.

Drew Griffin, thanks for that very strong reporting.

There's breaking news next. Why President Trump may be on the verge of issuing a wave of pardons. We'll talk about it with CNN's Chris Cuomo.


[18:55:29] BLITZER: All right. The breaking news. Alice Marie Johnson has now been released from an Alabama prison, just minutes ago. There you see her. She's running. She's going to meet her family and friends. Clearly, twenty-one and a half years in prison.

The African-American grandmother, great grandmother, I should say, she served 21 years on a drug charge. The president commuted her sentence today a week after receiving a personal plea from Kim Kardashian.

The president now is said to be considering dozens of additional new pardons.

Let's get some more with the host of CNN's newest program, "CUOMO PRIME TIME", that would be Chris Cuomo. He's here in Washington. Got some big interviews later tonight. Let's talk about this. What do you make of the president? He seems

to be wanting to do more and more of these pardons.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Well, the impetus seems obvious. On the political side, it's that this is unchecked power. The president can do what he wants. He doesn't have to ask anybody permission, he doesn't have to negotiate. So, we get that that's enticing to this particular president and that's why he's planning to do more even though as you know, this is historically and by precedent very early in an administration for these types of pardons.

In terms of the optics, Kim Kardashian, a celebrity motivating this, that seems to matter. We sat down with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, just finished the interview. I say today's a great opportunity for you to call president. He says they haven't spoken in weeks. Say good job, let's work on this issue now that we know you care about it.

He said no. And I said, why no? This is the problem with the intractability. Not some celebrity comes up and all of a sudden, he's found religion on this issue. We wanted to work with him on it and he didn't. I'm not going to do it because Kim Kardashian says so.

That's where we are today.

BLITZER: Is he trying, the president as some of his critics are saying, sending a message to others right now?

CUOMO: I think that this type of move objectively sends lots of messages. But you have to take the Alice Johnson pardon and put it to one side. You have to put the pardons of known liars on the other side, then you have a third side here, which is the self-pardon talk, which has an absurdist notion to it, politically and legally.

This main swath, though, why would you let a Martha Stewart, maybe Dinesh D'Souza, Scooter Libby, why would you have those kinds of people get off the hook? The argument that does send a message, Joe Arpaio, that he will be the arbiter of which lies matter and which lies don't I think comes through pretty clearly.

BLITZER: You had a really amazing interview with Rudy Giuliani Monday night on your first new show. All of a sudden now, he's alleging that 13 angry Democrats that worked for Robert Mueller and the investigation of the Russia probe, they are seeking to frame the president for something he didn't do.

CUOMO: So, Rudy Giuliani seems to have a point of conflict here. Which is he would say I'm zealously representing the rights of my client.

But he's not Jay Sekulow. He's not just a lawyer. He's America's mayor. He's Rudy Giuliani. He was on the ballot in 2008. You know, he wanted to run in the primary and he did so for a while.

So when he says something like that, it carries weight. You know, the guy who was at the DOJ, who have always respected its prominence and its function in the society. It carries weight. And that suggestion of that kind of conspiracy without any proof has to be damaging to the fabric of the country.

BLITZER: Framing the president --

CUOMO: Yes, you would argue treason.

BLITZER: You went to law school. That's an enormously serious charge.

CUOMO: It is and the idea of, well, it's OK because I'm representing his best interest. I don't think is satisfying, but you have to give Rudy Giuliani credit and I know the president does.

He has changed this dialogue. Instead of the media and people in politics pushing this president to be more transparent, we're doing to opposite. Well, can you even subpoena him? Can you even indict him? Well, I guess he can always plead the Fifth. He shouldn't have to sit for an interview.

We could easily be having the opposite conversation. It would be just as justified.

BLITZER: You got Sarah Sanders, the press secretary at the White House. She's going to be live tonight on your new show.

CUOMO: Yes, great timing. We're getting very lucky here early on with "CUOMO PRIME TIME". You said you gave me that good luck. Thank you very much, Captain. I appreciate it. We'll use it the best way we can.

Sarah Sanders wants to come on and talk about the first 500 days. Good. I believe the conversation has to start with this horrible moment we're in. It's toxic. The credibility problems between the White House and the media, we have to take that on first.

BLITZER: "CUOMO PRIME TIME", tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, we will all be watching.

Congratulations on the new show.

CUOMO: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.